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Rise of the Robots: Robotic Vacuums Now a Floor Care Fixture

Traditional vacuum cleaner with a hose, nozzle and brush versus a modern circular automated low profile unit, high angle view on a shaggy white carpet
Do robots live among your appliances? There’s a growing chance at least one type does. Sales of robotic vacuums and cleaning robots are expected to grow from $981 million in 2013 to $2.6 billion by 2020. And the innovations keep coming. New features like cameras, voice controls and improved navigation have taken robotic vacuums from a novelty to a fixture in floor care.

So what does one need to know before turning over vacuuming duties to a robotic partner? Robots have come a long way in floor care, but they’re still widely considered a supplement to, not a replacement for traditional vacuums. They can’t yet climb stairs, but they can sometimes reach areas that are hard to get to with traditional vacuums, like deep beneath furniture. They’ll take longer to clean a room—about 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the robot and the size of the room—but they can also do it on their own, whether or not you’re there to supervise.

Red robotic vacuum cleaner and smartphone. Smart appliances concept. 3D rendering image.
The hundreds of robotic vacuum models on the market offer different features. They use different methods to find their way around a room, using laser, cameras or infrared sensors. They may have different work capacities or perform better on certain surfaces. Some models use lithium ion batteries, others use nickel metal batteries.

Are you ready to welcome a robot into your home? Follow these tips to create a more hospitable habitat for your new cleaning companion:

Break down barriers: Take a look around the area you’re going to vacuum, and remove any potential obstacles. Even a sock or something smaller on the ground can interrupt cleaning, particularly if the robot tries to vacuum it. Remove any items that could get stuck in your robot’s rollers and cause an error.

Remove the cords: Just as you would with traditional vacuums, make sure the area being cleaned is free of plugs and power cords that the robot may try to vacuum.

Keep it confined: A robotic vacuum goes where you allow it to go. Close doors that might lead it to another area that does not need to be vacuumed, or use the technology features to keep it within a certain range.

Welcome it home: Many robotic vacuums will automatically make their way back to their charging station when their power starts to drop. Put the charging station in an area that’s easy for the robot to access.

Keep the robot clean: Keep your robot’s sensors and other navigation tools free of debris, as it can interfere with navigation. Empty the robot’s dustbin after every use. Make sure filters are clean and replace as necessary.

The next robotic revolution

Robots are slowly making their way beyond vacuuming into areas like mopping and air purification. Automation is becoming part of appliances, with many new models incorporating voice controls and the ability to adapt to our habits. Are there any tasks you would be happy to hand off to a robot? Let us know in the comments!

5 things to consider when buying a vacuum

If you’re serious about keeping your carpets clean and your floors shining, just any vacuum won’t do. The type, features and design of the vacuum are important, but the type of floors and the level of cleaning they’ll require should be your focus when making a decision. Do you have hardwood floors? Standard or ultra-soft carpet? Area rugs? Pets? People with specific allergies in the house? Do you vacuum every day or once a week? Make the wrong decision and you could end up with more of a mess and a vacuum that just takes up space.

Walk into an appliance retail store and you’re likely to come face to face with a plethora of vacuum models. They can be broken down into seven categories:

Lower half of a man wearing shorts vacuuming a tan rug with an upright vacuum as part of his housecleaning chores..
Upright: An upright is likely what comes to mind when you think of a vacuum. It’s a traditional, full-size, pushable format with or without a mechanical brush roll. It will work well and provide deep cleaning capability on many types of carpets, but it often is not the best choice for a house with only hardwood or other bare floors. Most will include attachments like a dusting brush, crevice tool and upholstery cleaner. Some may also include detachable handheld or smaller vacuum units. The key to cleaning carpeted floors is to have suction, air flow and good filtration. It is important to agitate the carpet with a mechanical brush roller at the same time the suction and air flow pick up the dirt and move it into the receptacle or bag.

Woman cleaning with vacuum cleaner, baby sitting on floor and biscuits all around
Canister: Unlike the upright, you won’t push the whole vacuum when using a canister, though they do need to be pulled. Unlike the upright, the canister can be maneuvered for stairs and difficult to reach places. The body is separate from the wand and floor tool, connected by a hose. They’re designed for the ability to be lighter weight when doing above floor cleaning (dusting, crevice cleaning, upholstery cleaning, etc.), but can also provide deep cleaning for carpet.

Man vacuuming and woman on sofa
Stick: Think of these as the everyday cleanup tool for mealtimes, pet hair and spills on hard surfaces and area rugs, but not as much for heavy carpet cleaning. They’re available in both corded and cordless, though there’s a trend toward cordless models.

The female hand holds a portable vacuum cleaner
Handheld: Handheld vacuums are made for smaller clean-ups. They’re often light enough to be operated with one hand, but some larger models may include hoses or attachments to tackle bigger messes. Again, they are available in both corded and cordless, although the cordless ones are more prominent.

Home vacuum cleaning robot in action on genuine wooden floor. Selective focus on robot.
Robotic: They’ll do the cleaning for you. Robotic vacuums are growing in popularity. They can be set to clean for a certain time and some are capable of following certain patterns or mapping a house or room. They don’t have the capacity of the other types of vacuums. They can clean carpets or hard surfaces, but may not have the deep-cleaning power of an upright or canister vacuum.

Wet-Dry: These vacuums are often reserved for the garage or basement but can be used in many places to mop up water spills or to clean up after wet cleaning on concrete or other hard surfaces. The vacuum is specially constructed to be used around water so that the user will not receive an electric shock when used in accordance with the instructions.

Central: These vacuums are installed in one place in the home and a tube is embedded in the walls of a home for routing to the central unit in the garage or basement. Central vacuums use ports located at intervals in the home to access the vacuum. A hose and floor tool can be connected to the ports. The advantage is that all the vacuumed dirt and dust are directed out of the living space of the home.

Now that you know the types of vacuums available, here are five factors you should consider when shopping for a new vacuum:

Ease of pushing: Vacuuming is a physical activity, and you’ll need to think about how much weight you want to push around while cleaning. Some vacuums are light and easy to push. Some will have heavy suction for cleaning deep in the carpet, but may have adjustments to make them easier to operate. Others are heavier and may require more force. If it’s too hard to push, you won’t want to clean. You should also think about how you’ll feel carrying it up and down stairs. Some vacuums use a motorized brush roller that helps to move the vacuum on the floor. Many vacuums make turning around furniture easier through their design. Ask your retailer if you can try it out before you buy it.

Bag or no bag? Bagless and bagged vacuums require somewhat the same level of maintenance. Both must be emptied regularly. A bagless vacuum will free you from having to stock up on vacuum bags, but they still contain one or two filters that need to be cleaned. Bagged vacuums trap the dirt and debris inside a bag and can be carried out for disposal.

Your level of dirt: Do you have pets? You’ll likely need to clean up more hair than anything else. Pet owners often own two vacuums—one for routine cleaning and a separate model for frequent deeper cleaning of pet hair from the surfaces and the right attachments like a turbo brush and crevice tool.

Allergen removal: Both allergy sufferers and pet owners should consider buying a vacuum with a sealed air system that prevents dirt, dander and allergens from escaping the vacuum.

Reliability and durability: Some retailers will have carpet available in store for you to try out a vacuum. Others may allow you to take a model home and try it out. Ask for a demonstration. But in case a demo isn’t possible, study online consumer reviews in advance and look for descriptions of how the vacuum performed on the types of flooring that you have in your home.

Vacuum Bags, Belts and History: Advice from the Curator of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum

Tom Gasko was about eight years old and walking to school when he found his first vacuum. It was a GE Roll-Easy from 1956. He was immediately fascinated.

“It looked like a barrel,” Gasko recalls. “Somebody had thrown it away. My mom said ‘That thing probably has bugs in it.’ I thought it was very interesting.” Gasko took the vacuum apart and figured out how it worked. Friends and neighbors, hearing of his interest, began giving him their old vacuums. He followed his passion into a successful career in vacuum sales, repair and design, and ultimately to his current role as curator and manager of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Factory Outlet.

Gasko’s vacuum collection, which began with the GE model, has now grown to nearly 800 and includes nearly every model ever made. To him, the individuality of vacuums makes them stand out among home appliances.

“Every dryer you buy is a square box with a rotating drum,” he says. “The design is pretty much the same. Vacuum cleaners are completely unique. Then, you add on top of that the passion of the door-to-door sales. It’s passion that you have with no other appliance.”

Visitors to the Vacuum Cleaner museum can get a guided tour through Gasko’s collection, and he’ll share details about each model and note how their design reflected the events of the time.

He might point out the Atlas vacuum, released in 1957, whose design evokes the classic Chevy model of the same year.

He’ll show you models from the 1960s, the age of the race to the moon, Star Trek and Lost in Space. This Fairfax model, Gasko says, was designed to resemble Rosie, the robotic maid from “The Jetsons.”

1960sFairfax
The 1970s, the era of Saturday Night Fever can is reflected by this Kirby model. The rake on the front is designed to tackle the strands of that iconic relic of the time, shag carpet.

1976Kirby
It’s safe to say that Gasko is one of the world’s vacuum experts. That designation means he gets a lot of questions from consumers about which vacuum they should buy. There’s no easy answer, as it depends on the home’s flooring, carpet style and cleaning needs.

Vacuums are relatively easy to care for, but Gasko sees widespread misunderstanding among consumers who aren’t aware of the simple steps they can take to keep their vacuum…well, sucking.

“They don’t understand that the removing of the dirt from the machine and filters, and changing the bag, is the best thing they can do to lengthen the life of their machine,” Gasko says. Upright vacuums without bags are common models, he said, but their owners often neglect basic maintenance. “Just because it doesn’t have a bag doesn’t mean it doesn’t have filters,” Gasko says. “Most people don’t know where the filters are or how to clean it. They don’t realize there are one, or two, or in some cases, three filters.” If you don’t clean your vacuum filters, eventually, the suction will disappear. Gasko estimates that about half of the vacuums put out with the trash work just fine. But their owners have failed to clean the filters and believe the vacuum no longer works.

Most filters are washable, Gasko says. He recommends removing the filter every time you empty the canister. Simply rinse it off and allow it to dry for 24 hours before you put it back into the vacuum.

Another simple maintenance step you can take is to change the belt every two years. “I’d estimate 50 percent of vacuums in people’s closets have worn out belts. Everyone waits until it breaks.” Belts usually cost about two dollars, Gasko says. A worn belt means the vacuum’s rotating brush won’t turn at the correct speed, limiting its cleaning power.

Vacuum owners also tend to neglect the attachments that come with the cleaner, Gasko says. “If it’s an upright, it has an onboard hose attachment, an extension wand, a crevice tool, a dusting tool and a furniture tool.” A canister vacuum will have a power head and rotating brush. The attachments can greatly expand the vacuums ability to clean and allow it to tackle different surfaces, like mattresses and furniture. But they too often sit unused in the closet, the casualties of their owners’ reluctance to read an instruction manual, Gasko says.

If you’re in the market, Gasko firmly believes that cordless vacuums are the future of the industry. It’s a safe bet he already has some in his collection. But he’s still on the hunt for a Hoover Model O.  “They only made 239 of them,” he says. Do you have one? Let us know!

Tips to Consider when Buying your Next Vacuum

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Canister or upright? With a bag or without? These are just a few of the questions you might have when trying to decide which vacuum to buy. Finding the right one can be more difficult than you think, especially if have pets, have limited storage space or have to carry the vacuum up a flight of stairs. If you’ve shopped online or in the store then you probably know that vacuums come in a variety of styles to fit every budget – just like cars.

AHAM has assembled some buying tips courtesy of HuffPost Home:

  • Keep in mind what you’ll use your vacuum cleaner for the most: “The toughest job for a vacuum is deep-cleaning carpets, which is what our research says is the number-one job people want in their vacuum. Equally important is being lightweight enough that it’s not hard to push, pull, lift and generally maneuver. Third is durability,” says Consumer Reports Senior Home & Yard Editor, Ed Perratore.
  • DO: Buy a vacuum that works with your lifestyle. “We test for pet-hair pickup and find that some models do very well at getting up what their pet sheds without the hair wrapping around the brush. Neither uprights nor canisters have the edge there. For apartment dwellers, the size of the unit matters a lot. If you have lots of carpets, we recommend bagged uprights since they tend to have the best airflow and suction. If you don’t want to lug around an upright and also maybe vacuum stairs a lot, consider a canister. And for general pickup of spilled dry items and dust, many people also have hand, stick and even robotic vacs–though you can’t count on them for deep-cleaning.”
  • DON’T: Forget that it’s all about HOW you use the vacuum. “There are a few ways to vacuum “wrong.” Never vacuum water or even a wet floor; use a wet/dry vac instead. Change your bag or empty your bin promptly; it affects available airflow. Ditto for the filters; inspect them every couple of months. If you vacuum up something big like a sock, turn the vacuum off right away–besides blocking airflow, you could break the belt, which is there to protect the motor. And if you vacuum a bare floor like wood or laminate and don’t turn off the brush (or don’t have a brush on/off switch), you’ll wear away that floor’s finish over time.”

View the complete article here.

Also, GoodHousekeeping.com has advice on keeping your vacuum running smoothly for years to come. Here are a few of them:

  • What’s the difference between a canister and an upright vacuum?
    A canister vacuum is generally more versatile. Like uprights, canisters handle carpets, but they’re also great at cleaning bare floors, vacuuming stairs and sucking up dirt from corners.
  • Which is better — a vacuum with a bag or a bagless vacuum?
    Neither is better. The Good Housekeeping Institute tests show that both clean equally well. Which you buy depends on personal preference. Bagless cleaners save you the trouble of having to buy extra bags, but they can be messy to empty, and the filters and dust containers must be kept clean. While vacuums with bags keep dust and dirt contained, they are tricky to retrieve an earring or small object that gets sucked up accidentally.
  • Do more amps mean better cleaning?
    If you’re tempted to buy a model with the highest amps, horsepower or watts, you might want to think again. These numbers are simply measurements of the electrical current used by the motor. A vacuum cleaner’s performance depends on airflow, the amount of suction it produces, and other factors including the overall design and attachments.

You can find more Good Housekeeping tips here.

Take the Work Out of Vacuuming Your Home with These Tips

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Of course you know how to vacuum, right?   Well, maybe not, according to Consumer
Reports that suggests that if you are vacuuming the wrong way, you may be making
more work for yourself.

Consumer Reports
magazine has 10 helpful tips that will leave your carpet cleaner and can leave
you less worn out after doing a chore that most people would rather not do.  Here are three to get you started:

Stick to a schedule, Make multiple
passes to clean deeply, and Spot-treat spills.
  You can read the rest of CR’s
tips here
.

An editor at Better
Homes and Gardens
magazine has additional tips in a Tampa Bay Tribune article. He
recommends saving vacuuming only after all of the other chores, such as
dusting, have been done and move all furniture out of the way.

“Professional house cleaners call this ‘top down cleaning’ —
you start at the top of the room, so particulates settle. Tackle ceiling
corners, window treatments, furniture and finally the floors,?? the article
states.

And after you’ve finished reading those tips, you can see
how far vacuum technology has come since the days of this 1950s Singer commercial. And if it
weren’t for this Hoover commercial,
you may have forgotten how vacuuming in the 1980s was such an exciting
experience that you may have worn a mink stole and lace gloves to clean the
house!  

What are your top tips for vacuuming?   
Have you discovered anything that makes this chore a bit easier?    Share
with other readers by commenting below.